Buckner Grants Bail for 'prophet'

The Press and Standard/August 2, 2002
By Libby Roerig

Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Perry Buckner set a $400,000 bond - half of which must be cash - for international minister Ralph G. Stair Thursday morning at a hearing in Walterboro.

Additionally Stair, who had been denied bond over two months ago because of a pending investigation, must pay for global position monitoring, have no contact - direct or otherwise - with victims or witnesses, turn in his passport and stay within the state. The other half of his bond is surety.

Stair faces two counts of breach of trust and two counts of criminal sexual conduct, second degree. Stair also faces two other charges - unlawful burying of a body without notice or inquiry and failure to get authorization for the removal of a dead body. However, Stair has not yet been indicted on those charges. Two other Overcomers, Dennis Mann Bush, 36, and David Marratto, 57, also face the same burial-related charges as Stair.

A self-proclaimed prophet, Stair is the leader of a long-time religious community in Canady's known as the Overcomer Ministry. He also preaches for hours over AM and short-wave radio and via Internet to a worldwide audience of followers. Stair's religious community, for which former followers say they had to sell all their worldly possessions and sever ties with family members and friends before entering, is approximately 100-persons strong, according to reports.

"We feel that the defendant is a danger to the community," said Deputy Solicitor T.K. Alexander. He cited Stair's reported ability to convince people to "drop out of society," "break up families" and not to seek medical treatment. Stair has also participated in several extramarital affairs, Alexander said.

Because Stair has "several millions in funds," has previously traveled internationally and was in affiliation with 12 or 13 other religious communities, Alexander said the minister was a flight risk.

But Stair's attorneys, brothers Joenathan and Mathis Chaplin, say Alexander's claims are false.

"Mr. Stair is not a flight risk. He is a servant of religious community," said Mathis Chaplin. Stair's wife and daughter live in Colleton, and he has no criminal history, Mathis Chaplin said.

He has been extremely cooperative with law enforcement," he said. "He has been called a model inmate."

Though the church may be worth millions, Mathis Chaplin said his client does not even receive a salary, only room and board. Later, Joenathan Chaplin estimated Stair's income to be equal to $30,000-40,000 per year.

Additionally, Mathis Chaplin argued Stair is not a danger to the witnesses and victims, as they live in upstate South Carolina and in North Carolina.

"He has made no attempt to contact the victims," Mathis Chaplin said, "He seeks no retribution. He just wants to clear his name of these false accusations."

Before setting bail, Buckner said each defendant has the constitutional right to bond and bond is not meant to be a punishment.

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